Looking into our American history, there are many attributes of those men and women who have come before us that we appreciate today. Indeed, one such quality is that of perseverance, which Merriam-Webster defines as the “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.”
Starting with the arrival of the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620, many of these unique individuals called “Separatists” (from the Church of England) sought a land in which they might be free to worship God as they believed He had called them to, separate from the authority of any other entity.
Yet as history reveals to us, they were completely unprepared for the harshest of conditions of such a wilderness. Dozens of their collective band died, while all suffered from hunger and malnourishment. But they survived. With the leadership of men such as John Carver and William Bradford, the Pilgrims were essentially able to get firmly back on their feet, establishing a long-lasting peace with Chief Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe. By the fall of the next year, they were able to perform the first harvest on the crops they had sown, and giving glory to the One who had providentially provided for them, held a Thanksgiving celebration soon thereafter.
Abraham Lincoln also showed this great virtue of resolution as well. At the very young age of twenty-eight, his lifelong advocacy against slavery began when, as a state legislator, he publicly protested that evil institution in a speech with a fellow representative. It didn’t stop when the setting became more difficult. When elected to Congress as a representative, he assisted in co-sponsoring an eventually unsuccessful bill which would have abolished slavery in the District of Columbia.
Not long after he had left Washington, Congress passed the “compromise solution,” popular sovereignty, to determine the status of slavery in newer states. It didn’t rub well with Lincoln and other Illinoisans that Stephen Douglas, their senior U.S. senator, had played a major role in its passage, as well as other pro-slavery campaigns. The ensuing year, state Republicans convened to choose their nominee. No one was surprised when Lincoln was the result.
Challenging the norm and atypical of Douglas’ views, Lincoln’s advocacy against the expansion of slavery became a major plank in his campaign, one which he more fully and openly embraced. And though, ultimately, it did not lead him to victory, the eyes of the nation were thereafter fixed on this tall, lanky man, who was quickly becoming a household name. It wasn’t long before he was elected as our sixteenth U.S. president.
The national focus, however, soon drifted elsewhere. With Southern states seceding as a result of his election, Lincoln tried to assuage their fears his election would mean the end of their successful plantations and international trade; he was only concerned with slavery’s expansion into newer states. But his assurances were not enough. By April of 1861, full-scale rebellion and secession had taken place in eleven states.
Throughout his presidency and the ensuing civil war, Lincoln combined the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery as the ultimate goals of his administration. In 1862, Congress enacted legislation banning the institution in the Union, and in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, essentially recognizing slaves as freed in the South. Two years later, the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in its entirety, was passed by Congress, and was soon fully ratified after Lincoln’s assassination and subsequent death.
Also exhibiting this quality of incredible determination as the commander of the Continental Army was none other than George Washington. As his army lacked the incredible manpower of his British counterparts, so also did his troops want for the sufficient weaponry, supplies, and basic training they needed to be a viable force in the field.
As expected due to his rank within this ragtag militia’s ranks, the blame rested on him when defeat came. This happened not once, nor twice, but many times as the war dragged on. Fellow officers were repeatedly disloyal, some treacherous. The soldiers themselves frequently deserted, leaving Washington with very few men whom he could actually count on in the tight spots of battle.
But as we know (and definitely live out and see!), the colonists were ultimately successful. In a chain of victories which resulted in the retreat, entrapment, and surrender of Cornwallis and the British army, Washington led an oft-divided Continental military to victory over the world’s finest army at the time.
What did he accredit this spirit of perseverance to? Interestingly, none other than God Himself in the following quote, “If I shall be able to rise superior to these, and many others difficulties which may be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe that the finger of Providence is in it…”
As we have seen in the examples given above, the confident virtue which these men and women had has impacted our nation even unto today. It is this same quality that we, with God’s help, can strive to embody today. May His favor shine down on us as we attempt to follow the examples set by those who have come before us, and live out this attribute which has made our nation great.